Monday, August 4, 2008

Dark Night of the Soul

I like to say that there are two things that sustain me. A hodgepodge belief in a Creator and a sense of humor. An ability to see the absurd in just about anything truly horrifying is really what keeps me going and I figure it's a blessing from the Creator.

I got out of bed the other morning and went downstairs to get a cup of coffee. We're still in Hilton Head, and I've been sleeping in what is usually considered the plum bedroom. It's the only one upstairs, and it's the quietest. It has a king-sized bed and its own bathroom. It's usually reserved for whoever is pregnant or whoever has an infant that needs a place to nap. But I insisted that this year I get the room upstairs because I was coming on the family vacation without Michael and had to bring Carmen, our long-time babysitter to help me with Sophie. Because we have seventeen or so people staying in this house, Carmen and I would bunk together with Sophie in the big bedroom upstairs.

When I walked into the kitchen, my father was the only person around. He asked me how my night was, and I almost said, "Oh, you mean last night when I became an atheist?" But I didn't. I just asked for a cup of coffee.

This is what happened last night. Sophie never travels well, and this vacation has not been an exception. I don't know if it's the distance travelled, the traveling itself, the time change, the humidity, the changes or what, but she has been a disaster the past week, especially during the night. She wakes numerous times with big seizures and then falls back asleep before waking again and having what are clusters of jerks and kicks that can become violent and are always upsetting. On the night in question, Carmen and I did our best to manage these clusters. We'd keep clear of her flailing limbs and stroke her gently, telling her that all was all right and that she'd feel better. Relax, relax, we whispered in the dark. Over and over. In between, Carmen and Sophie fell asleep, but I lay on my bed in the pitch dark, my thoughts dark and swirling in my head. I forgot to mention that when Carmen fell asleep she would almost immediately begin to snore. Loudly. Like a truck driver, her head thrown back over the pillow. The air reverberated with the sound, and if there's anything worse than a seizure in the night for me, it might be snoring.

I lay on my back and at first tried to summon all the meditation skills I know, the idea of meditation itself, the mindfulness, the non-judgement. I tried to just notice the sound, be mindful of it and the night and everything in it, but everything eventually just became too much and all that I knew flew out the door and disappeared and what was left was a dark night of the soul. Once I let it in, the thoughts came relentlessly: I hate my life; I hate Sophie; She has ruined my life. She might die. So many kids I know with special needs die young. Why can't I just enjoy her, now, even though it's night. I'm a horrible, evil person and my life is ruined by all of this. I don't believe in anything.

But I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes, it was morning and I was alone in the room. Light came through the blinds and lit up dust motes over the bed. The blanket was pulled up to my chin and the pillow was soft, perfect, really, under my head. The only sounds were muffled ones from below and the air felt sultry. I lay there, alone, and the details of the night before came creeping in. Gently, they crept in, but when I really thought about them and about my reactions to them, I felt almost embarrassed. The morning light dispelled the night so simply. The fears were gone, really. When I sat up, my feet felt good on the scratchy sea-grass rug, and I wrapped my pink linen robe around my waist and headed downstairs for coffee.

Where's the humor in this, you ask? I'm not sure. I don't know why the new day brings with it --- well, a new day. The night is sort of excised. I know that I will tell my friends that if I had had a gun that night, when Sophie seized and Carmen snored, when I rued my life and the fact that I was sleeping with a nanny and my disabled daughter, I might have shot them both. And then myself. You might not think this is funny, but I do. And like I said, it sustains me. For the day. For today. For almost any day, full of light, and dust motes and a cup of coffee.


  1. Your blog is beautiful. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. I didn't know you had a blog until I saw the direction on Facebook. Your restless night and your redemptive morning beautifully expresses the depth of emotion mothers go through with their are amazing Elizabeth! I was very moved by this. --Laura in LA

  3. I'd like a cross-stich message framed over my bedroom door that reads: "Last night I became an atheist."

    I actually had the same thought(though not worded quite as well) the other night.

    Life (at night) can be so hard; and at those times in particular, I'd like the flip side of my cross-stitch to say "there are two things that sustain me. A hodgepodge belief in a Creator and a sense of humor"!

    Thanks for your words.

  4. I'd shoot Carmen first. Nick snores, and I am close to shooting him..any day now.

    You are a rock star Elizabeth. Don't feel ashamed. If it helps, I hate everything, most of the human popluation included.

    But I love you.

    (The OTHER Laura in that the WILD one a few comments back??)

  5. You have captured so well the despair that any parent feels when their children are not sleeping for a reason or other. Lack of sleep is a terrible thing! Actually, it is a form of torture isn't it?

  6. Stunning description! Thank you for writing this with such honesty! Found your link through Jens blog Gems xx

  7. It is stories like this that remind me of the saying, "this too shall pass." So often I have been at my wit's end and ready to do something drastic and later, when I look back on it from a moment comfortable and warm I realize that I would have really regretted losing my sh*t. Gives me more faith in the future and more compassion for those people who do lose it when they are at the end of their rope. Glad you came out the other side in the sunshine.

  8. Ack! your words in the middle of the night sound hauntingly familiar... I had a dark night of the soul this weekend, myself. (And I didn't have a snoring roommate but I DID have a coughing dog...) But, as you said, somehow the night passes, and another day dawns...

    I love your descriptive paragraph about waking up the next morning: "Light came through the blinds and lit up dust motes over the bed....The only sounds were muffled ones from below and the air felt sultry.... When I sat up, my feet felt good on the scratchy sea-grass rug..."

    "Blog Gems" is a good idea.

  9. So glad you uncovered this and shared it again.

    This resonated with me so so so so much. I am so embarrassed for the I hate my life moments.

  10. I've had more of those moments than I'd like to admit. And dark sleepless nights seem to invite them. I can't tell you how good it feels just to know that I'm not the only one who has such moments. Thanks for sharing this.

    And thanks for visiting my blog...glad that you stumbled upon it!

  11. This is brilliant and true and so wonderfully honest.
    Glad you directed me here.

  12. In the middle of the night things seem so much harder, that is when I have my bad moments too. In daylight it is so much easier to stay busy and happy. Sleep and busy don't go together. It means a lot to read this, thank you:) Jen

  13. I love the way the sunrise washes away the worries of the day before. You have a lovely writing style.

    This is a beautiful post. I encourage you to link it up to one of my Saturday Sampling posts (published Friday nights at 9pm central time).



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